Former governor of Spandau Prison dies in Berlin
7 November 2005
BERLIN – Retired U.S. Army colonel Eugene K. Bird, who shocked Allied authorities during the Cold War era by writing a book clandestinely about Rudolf Hess, then the sole inmate of Spandau Prison, has died peacefully at his home in Berlin, aged 77.
Bird, who authored “The Loneliest Man In The World” in 1972, when he was governor of the prison freely admitted he had consulted Hess secretly in his prison cell while working on the text.
This incensed allied officials who claimed his actions were in breach of prison regulations. The fortress-like prison was demolished after Hess – serving a life sentence – committed suicide there in 1987. A Spandau supermarket shopping facility has since been built on the site.
Bird claimed he had written the book because he felt Hess’ account of his actions should be recorded, and that he had been inspired to do so after finding some of the book’s material dumped in a dusty cardboard box in the jail cellar, years after it had been forwarded from the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.
Bird wrote that Hess remained unrepentant about his Nazi era actions to the end. Hess told Bird: “I would travel the same route and end up here in Spandau. My sincere desire from the beginning was to bring Germany back to the old heights which it had attained before the First World War – before the Versailles Diktat, which was wrong.”
“I wanted to give Germany back its old pride and its old fame,” Hess said, according to the author.
The colonel’s literary adventure had a price. He lost his job at Spandau, was forced to resign from the U.S. Army, and a for a time was pursued about Berlin by car-loads of CIA agents.
But Bird never regretted his actions. “There have been speculations in newspapers and magazines in every language in the world of what is going on,” he wrote in an appendix to the 1972 Secker&Warburg-published book.
“They have said here is a madman being kept in chains and starved; or, here is a man living off the fat of the land. It has been speculation because nobody knew what was going on.”
Bird felt he had known Hess better than any living person since 1941, when Hitler’s deputy undertook his bizarre, solo flight to Scotland purportedly in a bid to bring about peace. The Kremlin, who never believed him, claimed his action was aimed at gaining a free hand to pursue his military onslaught in the east.
Bird was a director of Spandau Prison from 1964 to 1972. Years later, he seriously questioned allied accounts of how Hess had hanged himself in a prison garden hut in 1987.
“I was suspicious for several reasons,” Bird told this Deutsche Presse-Agentur reporter. “After all, Hess who had been held in Spandau for almost 30 years was by then 93-years-old and fragile. I doubted he had the strength to kill himself with a cord which was not attached at both ends to anything.”
After leaving the U.S. army, Bird remained in Berlin, living in the city’s outlying Zehlendorf district and operating a family business. He leaves behind a widow and two daughters.
Spandau fortress prison, which was built at the end of the 1800’s, served as a clink for soldiers until the end of World War I, and was enlarged when Hitler came to power. Originally seven top Nazis were sent to Spandau in 1947. Hess outlived them all, becoming the jail’s sole prisoner at the end of 1966 when Albert Speer, Baldur von Schirach and Karl Doenitz were released after serving 20-year terms.
Subject: German news